Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sunchoke Gratin Casserole

Ever seen these things before? Note - the small flowers are actually roses. I am referring to the tall green stalks.When we moved into our current abode, we discovered a patch of jerusalem artichokes...or sunchokes. I think sunchokes sounds much more appealing, don't you? It sounds like the food of the gods or something that will give you superhuman powers by eating it.

Sunchokes are a root vegetable that looks a lot like a potato with a hint of a knobby ginger root. Raw sunchokes are said to have the texture of water chestnuts, though also a bit like a raw radish. When you cook them, they get creamy and smooth. And taste somewhat bland (yet crunchy) when raw, but when roasted they take on a slight sweetness with hints of potato and artichoke heart.

I took it upon myself to head out to the garden and dig a few up. Wow, there are a TON growing in my backyard. In an effort to use them up, I created this recipe off the cuff. I was aiming for a casserole-gratin dish, with little dairy, that would taste amazing. Being my first use of sunchokes, I have to admit I am a bit smitten. Especially since I could dig up what I needed, wash and prep, then cook up a batch in little time. This is a perfect recipe for cold fall days, hearty and filling, yet without the gut bomb of usual gratin dishes. Enjoy!

Sunchoke Gratin Casserole
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted vegan margarine
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 tbsp minced shallots 
  • 5-6 large sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups warmed soy, nut, or rice milk (I used hazelnut) 
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Braggs to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 ½-2 cups of sunchokes, roughly peeled and quartered
  • 3  unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 peeled & sliced carrots 
  • 5-6 brussels sprouts cut into quarters 
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup coarse bread crumbs or panko 
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese 
  • Chopped parsley for garnish 
Preheat oven to 375. Scrub and roughly peel sunchokes. Thoroughly wash and dry the sunchokes. Cut into fairly even 1/4-inch slices. Cut up the potatoes into similar size. Chop the peeled carrots in to slices. Quarter the brussels sprouts. Toss everything in a large bowl with some salt and pepper. 

Melt the margarine in a frying/saute pan and add the chopped garlic, shallots, and onion. Saute for 3 minutes over medium head or until the veggies start turning slightly transparent. Add the chopped mushrooms and continue to saute for another 3 minutes. Add half of the thyme and Braggs to taste. 

While the veggies are finishing sauteing, warm the milk in the microwave for about a minute or so. In a small dish, pour a little of the warm milk in. Whisk in the flour into the small dish of warm milk until well incorporated (no lumps). Gently milk the flour-milk mixture into the remainder of the warm milk. Once the veggies have sauteed enough, remove the pan from the burner and let it stand for a few minutes. Gently whisk in flour-milk mixture. Presto - you are making bechamel sauce! Return the pan to medium heat and gentle stir for about 1-2 minutes. Add the rest of the thyme and bay leaf, then salt and pepper to taste. Then remove the pan from heat for the final time. Remember to take out the bay leaf before going to the next step! 

Pour the tossed sunchoke-potato-carrot-BS mixture into a 2-qt casserole or equivalent baking pan. Make sure it is one with a lid. Smooth into an even layer in the pan. Once the bechamel sauce has thickened a bit (few minutes of sitting), pour it over the sunchoke-potato-carrot mixture-BS. Lightly sprinkle the panko over the top of the casserole. Next, sprinkle parmaesan cheese on top. Finally, add some chopped parsley for decoration. Salt and pepper to finish things off and place the lid back on the dish. 

Bake for about an hour, or until the dish is bubbling and golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool for a bit before serving (this will let the sauce thicken again). Tastes great when served with steamed spinach!

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